You are on page 1of 8

A Rationale for and Reflection upon History and Social Studies Education

Christina deVecchis
December 11th 2014
EDCI 4210 W/4100
Marcus

deVecchis

It is a morning in December and I am sitting at my desk. I am itching with anticipation


for winter break and easily distracted by the snowflakes spiraling outside my window. I am
tasked with justifying the importance of history and social studies education and the prospect of
consolidating a lifetime of inspirations and frustrations, scholarly readings, and personal passions
into a brief paper has left me overwhelmed to the point of non-productivity. Above my desk is an
enormous world map on a corkboard and I smile to think I could, at one point, label every
country on a blank version of such a map from memory and silently thank my ninth grade
geography teacher. I study the pushpins poked precisely into the map that represent every city
and country Ive visited. I hope that while there, from the coal mining towns of Appalachia, to
the mountains of Salzburg I was a curious and culturally sensitive guest who took in experiences
without prejudice and ignorance. For this, I thank my 6th grade social studies teacher and her
yearlong lessons deemed Around the World in 180 Days. Looking back at my desk I see the
New York Times presentation of information from a recent C.I.A. report on my laptop, and
struggle to pull my attention away from that, half cursing my professor who got me hooked on a
daily dose NYT a few semesters back. In this room alone, there are maps, books, articles, pins
supporting candidates, stickers from past museum visits, and a myriad of other artifacts that
pulse with the influence history and social studies education has had on my life and I am
thankful that I have had that education and the educators to provide me with a strong background
to interact with these things and all they represent. Thats the thing about social studies
education; you cant escape the parts of life that will require you to use the knowledge and skills
it cultivates. History and social studies education promotes critical skills, is necessary for a
healthy democracy, and offers a way of understanding humanity. I am not alone in being a citizen
of a nation state, enjoying travel, or consuming media, these are, of course, extremely common

deVecchis

experiences, which, like so many others, require history and social studies education. This
education is absolutely necessary because it is both applicable and essential for participating in
life.
History and social studies education is, in part, so important because it offers students the
opportunity to develop critical skills and traits that will be useful in related fields but are also
more broadly transferable. This latter component is particularly important when justifying this
kind of education because educational professionals have noted transfer must be the aim of all
teaching in school. (Wiggins & McTighe, 44) Within my brief time in history and social studies
classrooms I have observed, and on occasion led, students developing skills in research,
persuasive writing, civil discussion, and formal debate. Students have worked on skills analyzing
films, artwork, literature, and news media. Teachers have worked to ensure that students consider
specific and source-backed positives and negatives of scenarios, and that students developing
personal beliefs are exposed to multiple sources from numerous perspectives. I have a hard time
imaging an adult who would not benefit, either personally or professionally, from possessing
multiple of these skills. Spending time in a history or social studies classroom can help cultivate
proficiencies necessary for any role in society. As a discipline history encourages the sort of
deep thinking and reading literacy required in our increasingly complex society. (Mandell &
Malone, 1) While the critical content knowledge of history and social studies informs the voter,
the future teacher, the solider, the politician, and bar trivia champion, the subjects are also linked
to the development of traits like empathy, inquiry, and critical thinking skills which are
applicable to parents, professionals, and presidents. The disciplinary skills of analysis, selfreflective thought, and forming opinions on evidence, are again broadly applicable. Social

deVecchis

studies and history offer unique opportunities to incorporate specific content knowledge while
cultivating truly essential and widely pertinent skills and capabilities in students.
The skills of social studies and history, while transferable to a variety of fields, are
specifically important for the growth and maintenance of a healthy democracy. As educator and
scholar, Joel Westheimer, reminds readers Democracy is not a spectator sport. (Westheimer,
320) Students will be called to participate in democracy in some form or another, be it in polling
places, protests, or PTA meetings. The democratic process of active listening, advocacy,
compromising, and acting is repeated on international and micro levels everyday. I would like to
encourage my students to participate in supporting their fellow citizens of the world in active
change and promoting whatever political ideals they believe. Ideally they would be
democratically participating in pursuit of their conception of justice, not on a blind faith in a
myth of say, American excellence and exceptionality. I want them to be active and critical
citizens, petitioners, office-holders, and voters. Students will undoubtedly be affected by laws
and government and should know how the systems affect them, and their entitlements within
them. History and social studies education can help students to understand their rights and
responsibilities within the political system. I would hope that this education would also make
them more considerate and conscientious of the multiplicity of the human experience and various
truths that people hold, if there comes a time when they are creating new systems or dismantling
hierarchies in place. By studying the social institutions and cultures of people far removed in
time and space, students should be better able to understand the multiple ways of being human.
(Barton& Levstik, 38) This understanding, and the ability to practice incorporating the
understanding into actions, can be developed in what scholar Thomas Levine characterizes as
communities of practice that classrooms can become for civic action. History and social

deVecchis

studies education, ideally inspires not only civic action and democratic participation, but infuses
those phenomena with deeper understanding and more diverse perspectives.
One of the most critical reasons that we as global citizens must have history and social
studies education is that the topics taught and discussions had within these lessons lead to a more
comprehensive understanding of humanity. In the words of a classmate this type of education is
necessary because it offers students a structured and thoughtful way to analyze the world
around you. (Grossman) There is almost no one on the planet who is free from the burden or
benefit of past wars, racial atrocities, imperialism, and continuing globalism. We are an
increasingly interactive world and we need education in order to us to move forward from past
mistakes of humanity and thrive, rising to global challenges of the modern era. By teaching
students about the histories of triumphs, tragedies, and human interaction, educators can help
shape students paradigms. History is unique in that, more than any other topic it is about us.
Whether one deems our present society wondrous or awful or both, history reveals how we
arrived at this point. Understanding our past is central to our ability to understand ourselves and
the world around us. (Loewen, 2) History and social studies education may be unique in that it
can build students conceptions of themselves and their identity intrinsically, and cultivate their
understanding of their particular position within the world. As a subject matter history contains
the very essence of who we are and where we come from. By applying a disciplined approach to
its study, one can develop a deeper understanding of how nations and cultures came to be.
(Mandell & Malone, 1) These understandings are important to ensure that we have a population
that conscientiously critiques nations, religious orders, sociological hierarchies etc. that they
presently find themselves situated in. History and social studies promotes students
understanding of humanity, increasing both self-conception and global conscientiousness.

deVecchis

I am not nave enough to believe that every student I teach will become inspired to pursue
historical knowledge and preservation, to become a renowned politician or policy maker, or to
start an amazing NGO that changes the world. I am, however, optimistic, that in some small way
the education students receive in history and social studies classrooms will make them open to
new experiences, more cognizant of both their rights and responsibilities in this world, and more
equipped, in terms of both transferable skills and specific content knowledge, to enter into their
communities and countries. I do, and will continue to, advocate for any process that holds the
promise of creating more educated, empathetic, and empowered young people. History and
social studies education provides important lessons for the test of life. I close with one of my
favorite quotes from young adult author John Green, which answers that age-old student question
Will this be on the test? in reference to history education:
Yeah, about the test...The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and
productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals
and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job
interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The
test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether
youll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether youll be able to place
your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and
it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your
life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.

deVecchis
Works Cited
Barton, Keith & Levstik, Linda. (2004). Teaching History for the Common Good. New
Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Green, J., Muller, S., & Meyer, R. (2012, January 26). The Agricultural Revolution: Crash
Course World History #1. Retrieved December 11, 2014, from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yocja_N5s1I&feature=youtu.be
Grossman, J. (2014) Remark made in think-pair-share.
Levine, Thomas H. (2010). A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens social
studies classrooms as communities of practice that enable social action. In David
M. Moss and Terry A. Osborn, (Eds.) Critical essays on resistance in education.
New York: Peter Lang Publishers. 143-158.
Loewen, J. (1995). Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Malone, Bobbi & Mandell, Nikki. (2008) Thinking Like a Historian. Wisconsin
Historical Society.
Westheimer, J. (2009). Should Social Studies Be Patriotic? Social Education, 73(7), 316-320.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Criteria for Evaluation
Excellent (A, A-)
Your current rationale for teaching social studies is explored and delineated in a coherent, engaging and
complete way.
Relevant readings and/or class discussions are used to strengthen your rationale and explain your rationale in
accurate and pointed ways.
Considerable reflection and thoughtfulness is evident, possibly through exploring questions you are struggling
with or description of change and growth in your thoughts about this topic.
An honest personal connection/understanding to the topic is made.
Mostly error-free writing.
Satisfactory (B+, B)
Your current rationale for teaching social studies is explored and delineated in a cohesive, organized and clear
way.
Relevant readings and/or class discussion are used in accurate and appropriate ways.
Reflection and thoughtfulness is evident and a personal connection to the topic is made.
Honest writing with errors that do not detract from the pieces content.
Developing (B-, C+, C)
This writing has a main idea that addresses the topic, but organization of ideas may be haphazard and the
argument/explanation is not well developed.
Essay may include irrelevant information or ideas.
Readings and/or class discussions are used, but not necessarily accurately or appropriately.
Writing seems rushed, possibly not proofread.

deVecchis